Sunday, July 27, 2014

as July ends

     BK photo.  Click image for full photo.

On the threshold of August, summer fires in California.  One just north of here in Six Rivers National Forest halted traffic on the main road to there for a day or so but was expected to be contained by Monday.  Two larger fires are burning to our south: in the Sacramento area and near Yosemite.  As elsewhere, they are burning hotter and faster because of drought-dried vegetation.

With requests to voluntarily cut back on water use apparently ineffective, California will begin mandatory restrictions on home water use on August 1.  The announced guidelines are fairly limited (don't water down your driveway etc.) but each municipality is supposed to develop its own rules.  We haven't been notified of ours yet.

So here on the North Coast, where some maps show the least effect predicted from the climate crisis of anywhere in the states, we're still looking at possibly big effects of small changes.  Though not yet part of the media buzz, there's knowledgeable talk of a rodent population explosion, along with some insects, possibly due to the mild winter.

By the National Weather Service stats, we've have above normal temps (2-3F) and below average precip (which usually isn't much) for June and July.  I don't have stats on pollen but we're really feeling it more, so I assume it's been consistently higher, a consequence of both those weather factors.  So hay fever symptoms are more on than off this summer.

So far our summer crops still seem abundant.  We're enjoying the high season for strawberries right at the moment, mostly from the hotter areas to the east.  It's possible to grow tomatoes in Arcata now, though we have only one plant with just a few baby tomatoes.  But the smell of the tomato vine on my fingers reminds me of August in PA, when the tomato and pepper crops were coming in, and fried plates of same were frequent.

And there's this butterfly, which looks to be an Oregon Swallowtail.  We don't get many butterflies here, maybe nobody does.  But there's been a couple around this month.
BK photo.  copyright William Kowinski 2014

Speaking of Sports

The SF Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the playoff hunt probably for the rest of the season, although the Dodgers sweep in San Francisco may turn out to be a pivotal moment.  So far the only contender to make a move was SF, trading a very good minor league prospect for veteran pitcher Jake Peavy.  The Giants hope to repeat their success with down on their luck veteran starters (most recently Tim Hudson.)  Peavy was immediately thrown into the deep water Sunday with a start against the rival LA Dodgers, to try to stop the bleeding as the Dodgers knocked the Giants out of first place with two straight wins in San Francisco.  His outing was respectable in an otherwise weird and poorly played game, featuring bad calls and errors by another recently acquired veteran, Dan Uggla, whose fielding lived up to his name.  Peavy got the loss, 4-3.

Meanwhile the Pirates survived Coors Field in Colorado, salvaging one win out of three games.  On Sunday they finally scored runs and hit enough homers to take the Rockies 7-5.

 Both the Giants and Pirates have more away games than home games remaining (SF has 6 more away than home, Pirates 3) which is usually not good. But the Giants are a pretty good road team--their epic slump in June and July was mostly at home after a very good road trip.  They started after the break with a good road trip, and lost their first games back.

 The Pirates on the other hand are nearly invincible at home, and not so great away.  Another difference: the Giants this year prosper the most when they score early and hang on (although their bullpen has been an adventure lately.)  The Pirates come from behind a lot, which has been a characteristic of some great Pirate teams in the past.

  The Giants will contend with the Dodgers, and both those teams continue to be plagued by injuries to key players.  But in the just concluded home series, the injury depleted Giants were clearly outplayed by the injury depleted Dodgers. The Pirates are in a competitive chaos with three other teams, and they have several late season head-to-heads with the Reds and the Cardinals.  And coming up next week, the Giants and the Pirates play their last series against each other, in San Francisco.  So at least I'll be able to listen to those games on the radio.

NBA:  The LA Lakers have finally done something right: hired Byron Scott as their coach.  Scott is an experienced coach at a high level (the Lakers beat his Nets in the 2002 finals), he won championships as a key player for the Showtime Lakers (and had the support for coach of key members of that team like Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Michael Cooper), and he mentored a 17 year old rookie named Kobie Bryant, who also lobbied for him.

 Phil Jackson says that in the NBA today you need a dependable point guard and a big center.  The Lakers acquired point guard Jeremy Lin and sort of big man Carlos Boozer.  I wasn't a fan of Boozer's game and didn't see Lin much, but they're veterans without being over the hill overpaid fading stars, so it does suggest these Lakers could have a respectable number of wins with some exciting games.  Because I expect Kobie will be back with a vengeance.

Most of the ESPN analysts who know more about the league than I do, don't exactly agree--they believe the Lakers are in a terrible position, not good enough to contend but too good to qualify for the best draft picks.  The rebuilding however must begin with the credibility of the organization.  Having whiffed on acquiring Carmelo Anthony, let alone LeBron James suggests that players suspect the legendary LA organization is not what it was. It is the Buss boy who probably has to prove himself to the elite players in the league.  Hiring Byron Scott looks like a start.

Meanwhile across town the LA Clippers have a better team but are in deeper chaos because of the still ongoing Sterling/Silver affair.  Donald Sterling is tying things up in court but Clippers coach Doc Rivers added urgency to the situation by suggesting he won't return if Sterling is still the owner.  Star player Chris Paul has since said he might sit out the season for the same reason.  There's even the possibility that players on other teams will refuse to play, perhaps limiting that to refusing to play the Clippers.  So just letting this all drag out in the courts doesn't look like a good option.
Update: Or not!  A judge's ruling Monday seems to clear the way for the sale of the Clippers by mid-August.  It's not yet certain but looks more like resolution is near.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Thing With Feathers

As I remember it, it started out quietly.  A small group of scientists, or maybe just one, suggested that a remote ancestor of birds might be dinosaurs.  Dinos might even have been warm-blooded.

These days the warm or at least tepid-blooded dinosaur is a full blown theory with lots of evidence.  And the convinction that dinos and birds are related has been growing.  But I doubt if anybody predicted this.

On Friday the National Geographic online had this headline: Siberian Discovery Suggests Almost All Dinosaurs Were Feathered.

Yes, dinosaurs were the things with feathers.  First there were a few species discovered in China that definitely had lots of feathers.  But now: "This does mean that we can now be very confident that feathers weren't just an invention of birds and their closest relatives, but evolved much deeper in dinosaur history," he adds. "I think that the common ancestor of dinosaurs probably had feathers, and that all dinosaurs had some type of feather, just like all mammals have some type of hair."

Think about all those dinosaur models, all the books and dino toys that boys love.  How fierce and formidable they look, how warlike and ready for titanic battles, just like in the movies.

It's easy to overlook that most were vegetarians anyway.  But now they aren't plated, smooth hard-skinned streamlined for action huge roaring beasts.  They're fluffy.

The article goes on to say that this doesn't mean all the dinos were covered with feathers like birds.  They may have had just a bit of fluff here and there, especially the bigger ones.  But still.  The roaring towering dinosaur image is likely utterly shot.

Just why dinos had feathers is still a mystery. What exactly did all these different feathers do? "I don't know; nobody knows for sure," Godefroit says. "These animals couldn't fly, that's all we can tell you."

Man, feathers and they can't even fly and swoop down, or attack in formation or anything.  Maybe not so red in tooth in claw after all, that leaf-munching tyrannosaurus fluffy. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Internet Dystopia

Someone left behind a copy of Wired magazine at the Post Office, so I picked it up.  It's a big thick issue with a story headlined on the cover that sounded interesting.  I paged through it, while searching for the table of contents or at least the article, and I was amazed.  Ad after glossy ad, mostly for men's luxury products.  There were half a dozen ads just for high-end wristwatches.  So much advertising, and I never did find the table of contents or the article.  (This isn't the issue, but the cover says alot, especially in contrast to the cover below.)

I remember Wired when it was thin and new, publishing articles by Kevin Kelley about how the Internet was going to create an automatic egalitarian Utopia.  Now it resembles nothing so much as an issue of GQ in the 1980s.  Granted that this particular issue was an old one in the holiday gift-giving season.  But even so.

With the maturation of internet-related corporations, and all the money involved, comes the same sort of excesses as previous rich businesses, like the Google executive who took and overdose (or maybe poisoned) heroin provided by an unhappy hooker on his party boat.   Kind of doesn't fit the revolutionary image.

The most conspicuous difference on the net is the nature and amount of increasingly intrusive advertising.  I've been reading Josh Marshall's site since it was a one-person blog called Talking Point Memo at least a decade ago.  Since then he's been building it as a political news and opinion site, employing a number of others.  Recently he's been pumping up a membership model with extra access while the public site is so clotted with ads in the form of video, banners, and (clearly marked) faux news that the site takes forever to load on both the browsers I use.  Extra incentive to buy the membership I guess.  But the content has itself moved to the most politically sensational, finding every right wing outrage that's easy to describe in a paragraph.  It seems to be all about the eyeballs, but this particular combination of  predictable content and intrusive advertising is losing mine.  It's not a site I check every day anymore.

The struggle for viable economic models, mostly so far involving a geometric increase in advertising, is probably one reason nobody I know of talks about the internet Utopia anymore.  Even universal access to the internet is threatened by proposed new rules that will allow different tiers of service (though in fact, providers are already doing this.) The move from desktops to new devices with very pricey service fees is creating an internet for the well-to-do and nobody else. But it's worse than that--the internet threatens to become a dystopia.

It is already a dictatorship, when users have the choice of "agreeing" to various forms of spying if they want access and services at all.  There was a kerfuffle over a "study" done at Facebook that did more than study--it changed information on individual sites.  Today there's a story based on another study that uses Google accumulated data on searches to determine what Republicans and Democrats search for during extreme weather.  If that's not an actual First Amendment violation, it should be.  But it's business as usual on the internet, where information is what these companies have to sell.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Small Step

Forty-five years ago today, a human being first set foot on another world.  Some 600 million people on Earth were watching and listening as Neil Armstrong descended to the surface of the Moon from the Apollo 11 lunar lander, saying (in words slightly obscured by static) "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Those of us who were alive and old enough usually remember where we were.  I was visiting Colorado, and had spent the afternoon in a car winding through the dry bare mountains near Denver, which seemed to me as desolate as a moonscape.  Kathi, the driver, and my girlfriend Joni were from Denver and we were seeing the sights, but I remember this landscape (and possibly the thin air that I wasn't used to) just made me despondent.

A few hours later we were in the basement rec room of Kathi's parents' house as we watched the ghostly image of Armstrong on the Moon.  I felt it--that I was watching in real time an extraordinary moment in human history.  At the same time, that indistinct black and white image was a little like watching Captain Video on an early black and white television set when I was five or six.

Years later the worlds of science fiction and factual history collided again at a Star Trek convention dinner.  I stopped to speak to Nichelle Nichols at a table in the darkened ballroom when she said she wanted to introduce me to someone. From the seat next to her up popped a man in a suit holding out his hand--it was Neil Armstrong.  I shook the hand of the first human to really touch another world.
Earlier in this 45th anniversary year, MIT Press published Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program by David Meerman Scott and Richard Jurek.  I liked everything about this book except the title, which suggests a conscious and coordinated campaign of hype and spin.  The book's contents tell a different story.  Though NASA and the major corporations involved in this titanic effort all had public relations and marketing people, NASA set the standard by insisting that the media be given full factual information.  There was plenty of hoopla surrounding the astronauts in particular, but a lot of that was generated by media responding to the burst of public interest that caught everyone by surprise.

As this book says (and other sources affirm), well into the 1950s the idea of rocketing humans into space was considered to be science fiction fantasy, believed only by children.  The Eisenhower administration itself was skeptical, though the U.S. government was confident that its plans to send a satellite into orbit as part of the 1957-8 International Geophysical Year would be the first such endeavor.

But early in the 50s, some magazine articles accompanied by dramatic cover art in Colliers plus the 3 Walt Disney programs beginning with "Man in Space" stirred some public interest.  Then came the shock of Soviet space firsts--the first satellite (Sputnik), the first live animal, the first man and the first woman in Earth orbit.  Humans in space was no longer a fantasy.

After a few disasters (including at least one on live TV), the U.S. Army and Navy succeeded in getting satellites up.  The civilian agency NASA was created, and suddenly the astronauts became heroic celebrities. After two sub-orbital flights, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.  Shortly afterwards, President John F. Kennedy issued his famous challenge: to land a man on the Moon and return him safely before the end of the 1960s.

After a string of successful one-person flights (the Mercury program) and two-person orbits mostly testing procedures and equipment for the moon shot (Gemini), the Apollo program began with an horrific tragedy: during a ground test, a fire aboard the crew capsule killed three astronauts, including the second American in space, Virgil Grissom.  After months of reappraisal and redesign, Apollo flights began and continued at a pretty rapid clip that kept the astronauts in the news and built to the moment of Apollo 11.

But for the next 6 Apollo flights, public interest dropped gradually and then precipitously.  "Few people alive on December 14, 1972, can tell you where they were on that day," this book notes.  But it was the day that the last humans to ever go there left the moon.  No one has been back since.

This book continues examining the coverage and marketing efforts after Apollo 11 and speculates on why interest dropped so far so fast.  Television coverage of the space program increased network news prestige--particularly CBS--but lost money, so after Armstrong it was cut back severely.  Other factors are suggested, notably that the goal of landing an American on the moon was basically Cold War competition with the Soviets, and after Apollo 11, it was game over, the home team won.

The authors also note how much else was going on to absorb public attention, and having lived through those years, that's certainly pertinent: the Vietnam war and associated actions in Southeast Asia, antiwar demonstrations, racial unrest, Kent State, the 1972 presidential campaign and the first Watergate stories were all happening between Apollo 11 and 17.

The book repeats assertions that the rise of the environmental movement in those years--partly inspired not at all ironically by the now iconic views of Earth in space, and the "earthrise" photos from the moon taken by Apollo astronauts--diverted attention from out there.

I recall all of these factors as at least partially true.  But there was also the relentless pace of U.S. space flights.  I saw them all on TV, from Explorer and Vanguard in 1958 through the Apollo shots more than a decade later.  I don't think people were totally fixated on the winning the space race aspect, but nobody could sustain excitement and the same keen interest for all those events.  Rockets to space were getting to be a regular thing.

Also, NASA had apparently concentrated so hard on getting humans to the Moon that they didn't come up with much for them to do there that was interesting, such as scientific exploration and experiments that could be communicated in an involving and exciting way.

This book does an admirable job of chronicling how NASA and the institutions involved got the information out, and how the media went about covering the stories.  There was a marketing concern, since it was felt that public interest would encourage Congress to keep funding the space program, but there were also concerns to keep commercialism from tainting the patriotic effort, leading to a shifting dance on what corporations could and couldn't do to publicize their part of the space program.  (Apart from major contractors, the winner on becoming identified with the astronauts was clearly Tang.  If you were there, you know what I'm talking about.)

This is a large format "coffee-table" book with lots of photos and sidebars.  Written by two public relations professionals, it not only tells the public information story but features enough documentary information (including transcripts of key Apollo moments) to be a good resource on the space program itself.  It seems to fulfill the NASA ideal of being as objective and complete as possible.  Though this was supposedly the Mad Men era, this book affirms that there really was a feeling of common purpose that permeated the space program and extended to the media.  The story of humans in space, of humanity on the Moon, was so powerful and inspiring that it often overrode selfishness and spin.

Today we know how many things went wrong as the Eagle was trying to land on July 20, 1969.  But somehow it did land, and that moment inspires awe even today.  Perhaps even more so, since such a voyage has returned to the realm of fantasy, only with better visual effects.    

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Climate Action

From the New York Times:

"President Obama announced a series of climate change initiatives on Wednesday aimed at guarding the electricity supply; improving local planning for flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges; and better predicting landslide risks as sea levels rise and storms and droughts intensify.

The actions, involving a variety of federal agencies, were among the recommendations of the president’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, a group of 26 officials who have worked since November to develop the proposals.

One of the projects involves shoring up the power supply during climate catastrophes, and the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday awarded a total of $236.3 million to eight states to improve electricity infrastructure in rural areas. A government study released in May concluded that climate change would strain utility companies’ ability to deliver power as extreme weather damaged power lines and hotter temperatures drove surges in demand."

Here's the White House story on this conference and these announcements. What's significant about this task force apart from its topic is that it includes tribal leaders, and they've made substantial commitments to address these problems on Indian lands.

 Thanks I'm sure in great measure to climate adviser and White House counselor John Podesta, the Obama administration is proceeding on real efforts to deal with the effects of climate disruptions already underway and in the pipeline, and to deal with the causes of future global heating by reducing carbon pollution and advancing carbon capture technologies as well as clean energy for the future.

The need for both becomes evident every day.  On Wednesday a typhoon that's killed at least 38 in the Philippines is headed for China.  So it makes sense that the US and China have signed eight new agreements on various matters relating to climate.  The emphasis is on sharing technology, research and expertise on a range of technologies, including "clean coal."

The New Divestiture Movement

When a few months ago Stanford University announced that it was divesting from coal companies, the industry all but laughed in public.  But the divestiture movement that was so effective in pushing South Africa to end apartheid  started slowly and with much more controversy.

Now the climate crisis divestiture movement got a very big and significant participant--the World Council of Churches that represents half a billion Christians announced it is ceasing investments in fossil fuels.

“The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves — and that there’s no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels,” Bill McKibben, the founder of, said in a statement. “This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today ‘this far and no further.’”

 These may not have immediate major economic impact, but the writing is on the wall.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

It Must Have Been Supermoon glow

Another overcast night meant the "Super Moon" was visible here only in photos.  Oh well.  The photos are neat.

Speaking of Sports

NBA: LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.  The response in sports media is overwhelming positive: he's going back to his home town area, he's admitted his mistakes in the way he left, and incidentally, he's making $88 million.  The move led to this Bill Simmons piece on basketball genius, a lot of it about Michael Jordan as well as LeBron--it's the best basketball piece I've read in a long time.  It says a lot about what happened in Miami and why LeBron left, plus Bird and Magic lore.

Once LeBron made his move, others followed quickly.  Contrary to my prediction, Bosh turned down a really good situation in Houston to rake in the dough by resigning with Miami, which lost its superstar but gained a lot of cash (otherwise known as "cap room.")  Pau Gasol left the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls.  Carmelo Anthony is reportedly negotiating with the Knicks to stay in New York.  The Lakers got point guard Jeremy Lin.

So who wins and who loses?  The clearest winner is the Eastern Conference.  The Bulls and of course Cleveland strengthened, the Knicks at least haven't lost ground.   Charlotte is improved.  Miami obviously will no longer dominate the conference, so it's going to be a lot more competitive and probably a lot better.The Chicago Bulls could be the team to beat--a long time since that could be said.

The Lakers got a point guard and lost their crucial big man and Kobe's experienced partner.  The Lakers organization has screwed up so badly for the past several years that it's going to take several years to just get even, and by that time, Kobe will likely be gone and LA may well enter another dry period with no face to the franchise.

That said, no other Western Conference team has conspicuously improved through free agency.  There's still time for teams to make moves and it's likely there will be some with the potential to change things.  In fact both the Lakers and Knicks have to make moves--they don't have enough players signed to field a decent team.

Baseball: After some tough--even freakish--losses against St. Louis and a blown lead in Cincinnati, the Pittsburgh Pirates showed why they are one of the most exciting teams in baseball.  Again losing a lead and down to their last inning, Andrew McCutchen blasted a 95 mph fastball over the wall in center to tie the game.  The Reds almost won it in the 10th but the mighty arm of super-rookie Gregory Polanco got the runner at the plate.  And with two outs in the 11th, McCutchen blasted a changeup out of the park to left, the game winner.

Meanwhile the Giants don't seem able to win for anybody but Lincecum.  Update: Unless the starting pitcher (Bumgarner) and catcher (Posey) hit grand slams in the same game for the first time in major league history.  And guess which one of them hit his second slam this season?  Hint: it wasn't Posey.  Giants won 8-4 Sunday.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Obama Admits His Failed Presidency

President Obama finally admitted the truth in Austin, Texas:

The crisis in 2008 hurt us all badly -- worse financial crisis since the Great Depression. But you think about the progress we’ve made. Today, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months. (Applause.) Our housing is rebounding. Our auto industry is booming. Manufacturing is adding more jobs than any time since the 1990s. The unemployment rate is the lowest point it’s been since September of 2008. (Applause.)..  So a lot of this was because of the resilience and hard work of the American people. That's what happens -- Americans bounce back.

But some of it had to do with decisions we made to build our economy on a new foundation. And those decisions are paying off. We’re more energy independent. For the first time in nearly 20 years, we produce more oil here at home than we buy from abroad. (Applause.) The world’s largest oil and gas producer isn’t Russia; it’s not Saudi Arabia -- it’s the United States of America. (Applause.)

At the same time, we’ve reduced our total carbon pollution over the past eight years more than any country on Earth. (Applause.) We’ve tripled the amount of electricity we generate from wind. We’ve increased the amount of solar energy we have by 10 times. We’re creating jobs across the country in clean energy. (Applause.)

In education, our high school graduation rate is at a record high; the Latino dropout rate has been cut in half since 2000. (Applause.) More young people are graduating from college than ever before....The Affordable Care Act has given millions more families peace of mind. They won’t go broke just because they get sick. (Applause.) Our deficits have been cut by more than half.

We have come farther and recovered faster, thanks to you, than just about any other nation on Earth...  For the first time in a decade, business leaders around the world have said the number-one place to invest is not China, it’s the United States of America. So we’re actually seeing companies bring jobs back. (Applause.) So there’s no doubt that we are making progress. By almost every measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office." (Applause.)

By the way, if you think President Obama doesn't have the fire and the eloquence of candidate Obama, and if you think the 2014 elections are a foregone conclusion, you need to see this speech from Austin, Texas.

"The truth is, even with all the actions I’ve taken this year, I’m issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in more than 100 years. So it’s not clear how it is that Republicans didn’t seem to mind when President Bush took more executive actions than I did. (Applause.) Maybe it’s just me they don’t like. I don’t know. Maybe there’s some principle out there that I haven’t discerned, that I haven’t figure out. (Laughter.) You hear some of them -- “sue him,” “impeach him.” Really? (Laughter.) Really? For what? (Applause.) You’re going to sue me for doing my job? Okay. (Applause.) I mean, think about that. You’re going to use taxpayer money to sue me for doing my job -- (laughter) -- while you don’t do your job. (Applause.)....

We could do so much more if Republicans in Congress would focus less on stacking the deck for those on the top and focus more on creating opportunity for everybody. And I want to work with them. I don’t expect them to agree with me on everything, but at least agree with me on the things that you used to say you were for before I was for them. (Applause.) You used to be for building roads and infrastructure. Nothing has changed. Let’s go ahead and do it. (Applause.) Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform, and you love Ronald Reagan. Let’s go ahead and do it. (Applause.)

Let’s embrace the patriotism that says it’s a good thing when our fellow citizens have health care. It’s not a bad thing. (Applause.) That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing when women earn what men do for the same work. That’s an all-American principle. (Applause.) Everybody has got a mom out there or a wife out there or a daughter out there. They don’t want them to not get treated fairly. Why would you be against that?

It’s a good thing when parents can take a day off to care for a sick child without losing their job or losing pay and they can’t pay their bills at the end of the month. It’s a good thing when nobody who works full-time is living in poverty. That is not radical. It’s not un-American. It’s not socialist. That’s how we built this country. It’s what America is all about, us working together. (Applause.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Eye of the Storm

As we've noted here, El Nino and the climate crisis itself are phenomena of nature that take a long time and particular circumstances to develop, but once they take hold, there's nothing that can be done to stop them until they've played themselves out.  The best that can be done is to blunt their effects, and (in the case of the climate crisis) take steps to see it doesn't get worse or ever happen again.

We may be part of a similar political phenomenon, though politics is only its location and not totally its cause.  It may be so powerful that it can't be stopped until it plays itself out.  Though it's not clear where it will end up, it is obvious where it is going.

Right now we might call it the revolt of the reactionary right, a kind of apocalyptic extremism pushing the US into political crisis, and perhaps constitutional crisis.

Republicans in Congress, in some states and in the rabid right media are converging on one point: the presidency.  Over the past weekend, House Speaker John Banal repeated his demand that House Republicans sue President Obama over still unspecified actions in violation of his legal mandates.  On Tuesday it was reported that the House will make a circus out of this for the next three weeks, scheduling a vote perhaps hours before the House goes on one of its frequent recesses.

A GOPer Senate candidate in Iowa upped the ante by accusing President Obama of being a dictator.  And for some the lawsuit is not enough--they want Congress to impeach President Obama.  That demand was connected to a kind of political threat not so viciously made since the days of Joe McCarthy when Sarah Palin said
"we should vehemently oppose any politician on the left or right who would hesitate in voting for articles of impeachment."

Jonathan Bernstein wrote a perceptive post that outlines the growing pressure within the Republican party to push for impeachment, the unprecedented nature of this proposal, and the likely bad outcome for Republicans and the country.

In a comment on that post, I wondered if Banal's lawsuit was to short-circuit the calls for impeachment, though some observers thought it was to be a kind of warm-up for impeachment.  On Wednesday Banal  said he "disagreed" with the calls for impeachment so far.  On Thursday the lawsuit (itself unprecedented) was unveiled--it focuses on President Obama's "failure to enforce the Affordable Care Act" as passed by Congress--the same act that Republicans have voted a zillion times to repeal.  And a law that (on the same day) is proving to be working.

Update: The commentary on Friday had to do with whether the courts would find that Congress has the "standing" to even sue.  Here's Jonathan Bernstein on that. There's also the likelihood that this could go on for more years than President Obama has in office.  BUT (and this is just my conjecture), an early decision by a court that the House of Representatives does not have standing and therefore the suit is thrown out, and the only remedy available is impeachment: this could lead to a renewed and even more frenzied impeachment push. 

For her fiery call, Sarah Palin received a certain amount of ridicule (including Borowitz: Americans Unhappy To Be Reminded That Sarah Palin Still Exists.) But it is not really clear that this is over.  Some Republicans may feel President Obama's tepid poll numbers, and the ongoing if premature debate over the success or failure of his presidency, create a political context sympathetic to their actions.  But the poll numbers are changeable (when the polls aren't bogus) and the debate has two sides.

For example there's the position that Obama did what any Democrat would have done as President (Bernstein has proposed this.)  Jonathan Chiat disagrees.  He notes how only President Obama's steadfastness in sticking with the comprehensive Affordable Care Act when others in his administration were ready to cave and accept an increment or two, kept the bill together long enough for passage.

I would add another example.  Both Bernstein and Chiat agree that any Dem would have proposed a big stimulus package.  But the difference may be in what was in that package.  I'm not sure all other Dems would have insisted that a chunk of spending be devoted to embryonic clean energy projects.  Yet that seeding was important and possibly crucial to the tremendous growth in clean energy we see today, to the point that it is a real economic as well as ecologic force.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Two Weather Makers for 2014 and Beyond

As "The World Set Free," that great episode of Cosmos said, climate is the general outline of weather and it is pretty predictable.  The day to day weather within it is still pretty unpredictable more than a day or so in advance.  But there are a couple of phenomena that do determine weather, and both are making news.

One is our old friend El Nino.  As this pretty thorough ABC article explains, it occurs when several small things happen at the right times, and then it takes on a life of its own. In a way, that's a relevant model for the climate crisis itself.  When El Nino gets established it can last for two years or so.  Right now the relevant scientists are 80% sure El Nino is developing.  It's likely to be felt in fall and winter.  As this article notes, the early effects are already being felt in India, where the monsoon season is dryer, and food prices are going up.

The general effects of El Nino are increased global heating and more extreme weather.  It moves the rain around so that some areas get a lot more than usual, and others a lot less, causing flooding and drought respectively.  Since El Nino releases heat from the oceans, there's speculation that this time it will be even hotter because the oceans may be holding much of the carbon-caused heating that's happened in the past few years.  Record-breaking global temps for the next year or two at least would then be likely.

How big an El Nino this one might be is still an open question. One reason is that there isn't enough good information, although there could have been more.  As the ABC article notes, real systematic study of the phenomenon only began after the El Nino of the early 1980s.  A system of buoys with measuring instruments was created--but in the US financial crisis of 2008, support for maintaining them was dropped.  So we're getting less information than we could be.

The question of whether this will be a "normal" or "super" El Nino is closely watched here in California, because it may be the difference between some rain and a lot of rain, maybe even enough to break the drought.  In any case, El Nino tends to push weather to the extremes, both in extent and duration.

Another major phenomena determining weather is the jet stream.  Last winter and this spring and summer have been characterized by unusually extreme weather hanging around for a long time.  There was also the "polar vortex" bringing Arctic cold south into the U.S.  Now a series of studies suggest that unusual "waves" in the jet stream that sort of move cold and hot air around in unfamiliar patterns, can and did cause such extremes.  Moreover, a cause of these waves may be global heating.

What nobody knows is the combined effect of these two phenomena happening together.  But we may well find out very soon.

Update: Because of these and other effects of global heating and the climate crisis, the UN today said that the "normal" baselines for predicting weather are no longer normal, and must be updated if forecasts are to be anywhere near accurate.

Paul in Pittsburgh

Paul McCartney played Pittsburgh the other night.  I wasn't there but some of my genes were--my niece Megan and her husband Steve were there.  I've seen films of Paul's most recent tours and the concerts are great, not only for the great music but for the audiences--two, three, four generations of Beatles fans, ecstatic and singing along.  And McCartney fans--there's a generation or two in there somewhere that knew him first from Wings or after.

Megan and Steve even had a Beatles-theme wedding.  I guess the Beatles mixes I made for Megan and her sister Sarah when they were little were not in vain.

I was present for a Paul McCartney concert back in 1976 at the RFK stadium outside Washington.  We were high up and far away but someone brought binoculars and passed them around.  I got them during a ballad with Paul at the piano.  When I got him in focus I was startled to see him apparently looking right at me.

In its account of the Pittsburgh concert--only the second on his current US tour, which almost didn't happen because of his recent illness--the Post Gazette published his set list.  I've heard his recent concert versions of many of these tunes.  So I did the best I could do--I listened to the music playing in my head.

Speaking of Sports

Baseball: The SF Giants were so far ahead in their division that one of the worst months it is possible for a contending team to endure has left them in a two-team race with the Los Angeles Dodgers that will probably continue the rest of the season, if--IF--they can right the ship after the All-Star break.  They had a couple of games returning to form, Hunter Pence turns out to be a terrific lead-off hitter,  Brandon Belt is back and taking up with where he left off as a power hitter, Joe Panik is turning into a skilled major leaguer who can deliver timely hits, and the starting pitching is coming around--the miracle of Lincecum in particular.  Relief pitching is still shaky and it will have to stabilize for them to stay at or near the top.  Their series with Oakland--now the team with the best record in the majors, replacing the Giants--suggests the NL pennant may not be worth all that much anyway.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to scorch the league, with Gregory Polanco already a star, even beside the Hall of Fame numbers that Andrew McCutchen has been putting up for the past month or so.  Their test will be to maintain this momentum after the break.  They have very difficult competition in their division: the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates are all separated by no more than 4.5 games. They'll need nerves of steel to win the division or even a playoff spot, but on the other hand they are only 4 games above .500 but only 3 games out of first.

Basketball: I hate myself for being at all interested in millionaire basketball free agents shopping for multimillion dollar contracts, but I've been watching old Lakers and Bulls games on tape so the NBA has my attention.  The news changes every day, and what's becoming clear is that some of these guys may well decide based on what other guys decide.

 LeBron may well stay in Miami but it feels to me like Bosh goes to Houston regardless.  The Lakers are working the PR machine to make it seem like Carmelo Anthony is seriously considering joining Kobe and Pau Gasol as the nucleus of a contending team.  Melo would take a pay cut from the Knicks to do so.  A NYC paper is reporting that Melo wants to recruit LeBron but the Knicks don't seem to have that kind of money available--and LeBron has announced he's looking for the money.

For the Lakers hopes with Melo, the wild card is Gasol, also a free agent.  He's being actively courted by several teams who actually want him, while the Lakers have been rumored to be trading him most of the past several seasons.  Do you stay somewhere you've been dissed by management?  I would be surprised if he stays with the Lakers, but he seems to like living in Los Angeles.

  Right now the Knicks don't look in great shape for next season and if they lose Melo to LA or Chicago and that money is available, we'll see how creative and persuasive Phil Jackson can be.  The Lakers aren't in great shape either without landing a superstar or a couple of stars. Still, this conventional wisdom that Kobe is too old and is only a "nominal" superstar will be proven wrong.

World Cup: Uh, what's the World Cup again?

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Stress, Smoke and Mirrors

All stressed out, especially about the effects of being all stressed out?  Or are you worried that you aren't a Type A personality, the go-getter hero of capitalism with the relentless predatory drive to achieve, cheat and win, and then die of an heroic heart attack?

Hey.  Light up a cigarette and relax.

NPR is doing a series on stress.  They commissioned a poll which is mostly non-scientific nonsense, yielding such stunning results as people in poor health feel a lot of stress. Wow!

 But in Monday's story on the subject they did come up with some important news.  (News only because it hasn't been widely reported, to my knowledge.  The actual information has been available on the Internet for decades.)

It turns out that in reviewing these documents posted by court order since the 90s,  public health researcher Mark Petticrew found that much of the research that made "stress" famous, that "discovered" the Type A personality, was funded and controlled by Big Tobacco:

"What they've discovered is that both Selye's work [which established that any kind of stress caused bad health outcomes] and much of the work around Type A personality were profoundly influenced by cigarette manufacturers. They were interested in promoting the concept of stress because it allowed them to argue that it was stress — not cigarettes — that was to blame for heart disease and cancer.

"In the case of Selye they vetted the content of his papers and agreed the wording of papers," says Petticrew. "Tobacco industry lawyers actually influenced the content of his writings, suggesting to him things that he should comment on."

They also, Petticrew says, spent a huge amount of money funding his research. All of this is significant, Petticrew says, because Selye's influence over our ideas about stress are hard to overstate. It wasn't just that Selye came up with the concept, but in his time he was a tremendously respected figure."

Why does this not surprise me?  I've already told the story here of my encounter Big Tobacco paying off a newspaper to censor anything negative about Big Tobacco.  This story is entirely credible on the face of it.  It's especially credible because it fits into Big Tobacco's obsessive attention to marketing.  Sure, a lot of scientific research has been funded by the Defense Department and other organizations with a purpose, but Big Tobacco wasn't interested in discovering or creating anything--they only wanted to manipulate "research" to help them sell cigarettes, and to prevent for as long as possible any attempt to regulate tobacco as a serious health threat.

As for stress, the NPR story also mentions that later research casts a lot of doubt on the whole Type A idea, though that mythology is firmly entrenched in popular culture.  Most of the research that links high stress to heart disease was funded by Big Tobacco, while all but one of the studies that weren't find a much weaker link.  The NPR story concludes:

But some scientists now argue that our usual narrative of stress — that stress is universally bad for health — is too one-sided and doesn't reflect the reality that some degree of stress can actually benefit people. Stress isn't always a bad thing.

Still, the narrative of stress promoted by the tobacco industry through research and marketing is alive a well. A ghost from a long time ago continues to shape how we see, and experience, stress.

Mr. Butts is still in our heads.  Want to ask him what he thinks of the climate crisis?

Monday, July 07, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Weekly Quote

"True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment."
 William Penn

"People Prefer Electric Shocks to Being Alone With Their Thoughts"
The Atlantic

Friday, July 04, 2014

Tweeter Says: It's in the Constitution

It's a good day to remember that here in the US, all of our freedoms, all of our rights, as well as our natural environment and our common good, are protected by our federal government.

The federal government is not always equal to this mandate but it is important to honor the fact that it exists.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Tweeter Says: the World Cup conspiracy

The difference between old guys and crazy old guys: Old guys don't get why the World Cup is such a big deal.  Crazy old guys believe that the World Cup being such a big deal is another Obama conspiracy.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tweeter Says: Bribes are just somebody's way of saying I love you

What's the fuss about Congress killing disclosure of who finances their free trips?  If money is speech and corporations are people, what's the problem?  Bribes are just somebody's way of saying I love you.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.”

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Towards the Showdown of Delusion?

As Republicans continue to accelerate their noxious nonsense, Democratic leaders are pushing back with some plain talk.

Addressing the recent resurrection of the Republican vampire called Cheney and his allied neocons providing the same insane analysis and policy prescriptions (i.e. war) for Iraq, former President Bill Clinton told NBC News: "If they hadn't gone to war in Iraq, none of this would be happening. Mr. Cheney has been incredibly adroit for the last six years or so attacking the administration for not doing an adequate job of cleaning up the mess that he made. And I think it's unseemly."

Last week Speaker of the House Banal announced the GOPers were going to sue President Obama for some of his executive actions as President.  Josh Marshall is among those who see this as a prequel to an inevitable attempt to impeach the President.

While on a trip to Minnesota (photo above) which included a town hall meeting (the best of the three events), a short speech at a party event held at the residence of an early supporter, President Obama addressed this suit bluntly in a public speech in Minneapolis:

"And, now, some of you may have read -- so we take these actions and then now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions. They’re not doing anything, and then they’re mad that I’m doing something. I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job."

Though this quote made the news, the President surrounded it with factual statements about what he had done and what Congress had not done, plus one thing they did (vote for more tax breaks for the wealthy.)

But even buried in the middle of a substantive speech, this blunt defense (plus some blunt offense) signals that if Republicans think they can take the stage alone through impeachment, they better think again: President Obama is not going to be passive or above it all.  He's ready to go right at them.

It's hard to credit this impeachment talk, since there isn't anything approaching a real scandal except in the GOP/Fox echo chamber.  They may be looking at the President's marginally dropping approval numbers, but these can be deceptive.  In analyzing dropping approval numbers on his foreign policy while the polls also show that voters actually support Obama's foreign policy actions, Dan Dresner in the Post makes a distinction between "outputs" and "outcomes."  Those surveyed show their unhappiness with the outcomes--that is, the current mess in Iraq for instance--but they agree with the outputs, that is the specific policies.

I think this is true on domestic issues as well (which is why in MN President Obama made sure to describe his attempts to get those policies enacted that he, the Democratic party and the majority of Americans support): voters surveyed register their unhappiness with various outcomes (from the job market to congressional stalemate) more than President Obama's policies (which they largely support) or certainly President Obama himself.

If Republicans don't understand this, they might convince themselves that impeachment is a winning strategy, regardless of whether or not it is an abuse of the Constitution.  But they would be really, really wrong.

Let me put it this way: President Obama's Inaugurals brought several million people to Washington.  Do they want to see how many will assemble in front of the Capitol if they're rash enough to try this, and somebody calls for such a rally?

I didn't make it to either Inaugurals, but if this happens, believe me I'll be there.  And so will a lot of others.  President Obama's core support is deep and wide.  On top of that, there are millions who won't look kindly on such a repulsive political move.

 So GOPers, consider this a not entirely friendly warning.  And let me speak plainly too.  You want to do this?  Go ahead.  Make my day.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Here Comes the Sun (continued)

Revisiting the Al Gore article in Rolling Stone and its section on solar energy: after noting the faster than anyone expected progress in technology (including battery storage) he described the response by the Koch Brothers and others whose investment in the fossil fuel grid is threatened by decentralized clean energy.  They're pouring money into the states--and into their made men in office--to impose extra taxes on solar panels, for instance.  They've had some success in their puppet state legislatures.  But according to Gore, not so much with voters:

But here is more good news: The Koch brothers are losing rather badly. In Kansas, their home state, a poll by North Star Opinion Research reported that 91 percent of registered voters support solar and wind. Three-quarters supported stronger policy encouragement of renewable energy, even if such policies raised their electricity bills.

In Georgia, the Atlanta Tea Party joined forces with the Sierra Club to form a new organization called – wait for it – the Green Tea Coalition, which promptly defeated a Koch-funded scheme to tax rooftop solar panels.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, after the state's largest utility, an ALEC member, asked the public-utility commission for a tax of up to $150 per month for solar households, the opposition was fierce and well-organized. A compromise was worked out – those households would be charged just $5 per month – but Barry Goldwater Jr., the leader of a newly formed organization called TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won't be Killed), is fighting a new attempt to discourage rooftop solar in Arizona. Characteristically, the Koch brothers and their allies have been using secretive and deceptive funding in Arizona to run television advertisements attacking "greedy" owners of rooftop solar panels – but their effort has thus far backfired, as local journalists have exposed the funding scam."

Clean energy has already spurred innovation, and as Gore and President Obama keep insisting, clean energy is the global industry of the future.  It can no longer be strangled in the cradle as for years it seemed it was going to be.  It's too far along all over the world, and all across North America.  It's going to look like computer tech does now--unimaginable a few decades ago, now unimaginable to be without it.  Economic as well as moral leadership are at stake right now.

Enough raw energy reaches the Earth from the sun in one hour to equal all of the energy used by the entire world in a full year, Gore writes, and I just heard something similar on Cosmos.  If we recover just a fraction of that energy for use, civilization can have all the energy it could ever need without polluting the atmosphere.

Update: News of a "breakthrough in solar panel manufacture that could promise cheap energy within a decade."  Another story about it here.

Getting to that point--producing abundant energy without greenhouse gas pollution--while pursuing innovative solutions to the problems resulting from the effects of the climate crisis, and ramping up even more ways to address the causes of the climate crisis with clean energy tech, maybe carbon capture etc.--will drive the economy of the future, starting now.

Those who claim that addressing the causes and effects of the climate crisis are only economic burdens and drains on the economy, are merely repeating truisms that are no longer true.  Even relatively conservative changes that would result in lower greenhouse gases pollution would grow the world economy, according to a new report by the World Bank.  Not exactly a far left organization.  

As this article in the Guardian notes, there are plenty of studies showing how economically devastating it would be to NOT address the climate crisis, or to significantly delay addressing it.  Now studies are emerging that make a positive case for economic growth from addressing it.  This is even before the true economic costs and benefits are added to the conventional and unreal assumptions of economics that never figures in the costs in health or environmental degradation and hence the future support for human life and civilization.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Party for No

Giants fan favorite Tim Lincecum tossed a no-hitter on Wednesday in front of 41,500 in San Francisco.  In their radio postgame, the announcing team talked about the drama and excitement in the stadium during this game against the San Diego Padres.  Despite this being the second no-hitter this month, and Lincecum's second in a year, given the number of games played over the years it is a rare event. He's only the second pitcher for the Giants to have thrown two no-hitters--the others were by legendary Christy Matthewson in 1901 and 1905.  Fans gave Lincecum several ovations in the later innings.  After the game the team broke out the champagne--that's how special this is.

In fact Lincecum was one batter away from a perfect game.  He gave up one walk, and there were no Giant errors.  On top of that, he had two hits and scored twice.

This bolt from the blue event was all the more dramatic given Lincecum's starts this year, and particularly the morass of losing the Giants have been sunk in for weeks.  Lincecum's starts this year have been an adventure, with lots of walks and hits, though the Giants were scoring well enough to win most of those games.  In recent weeks, the Giants have found every which way to lose: for awhile their hitting and starting pitching was fine but late inning relief pitching--one of their strengths--simply fell apart.  More recently their most reliable starters have faltered while their hitting fell off.  One of those starters, Tim Hudson, made a statement about it that's pure 21st century San Francisco--he suggested it was regression to the mean.  The Giants had been winning games they probably should have lost, and then lost games they should have won.

In their Techtown broadcasting booth, the game announcers also talked about the role of tech --the news of Lincecum pitching a no-hitter into the late innings spread around the world via social media and various sports aps via smartphones etc. so by the ninth inning there was global attention on this game.

Playing second base in this game was the Giant's rookie phenom with the great baseball name of Joe Panik.  He'd been called up from his minor league team, as usual without warning, and managed to make a phone call that woke his parents at 3 a.m., but they got on a plane and were in the stands for his first start--and his first major league hit.  Now learning the big league ropes, he fielded the ground ball that ended the no-hit game.

Meanwhile the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best winning percentage this month in the National League.  Their super-rookie, Gregory Polanco, hit safely in his first 11 games, and got on base in his first 15, both club records.        

Monday, June 23, 2014

We Are In It Now

"After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends."
Wallace Stevens
"The Well Dressed Man With a Beard"

Al Gore quotes this poem, probably not for the first time, in his new Rolling Stone article on the climate crisis.  It helps make his point that he believes chances are getting better than the climate crisis will be significantly addressed, specifically in the international meetings of 2015, but also more generally.

I'm glad he's no longer using the unfortunate "solve the climate crisis" formulation.  If it's a crisis, you can address it, you can confront it.  If it's a problem, you can try to solve it.  The difference is meaningful.  The climate crisis involves lots and lots of problems, many of which have no likely solution as such.  Sometimes it will be a matter of limiting the damage.

Anyway it's a very good article, very up to the moment, yet in useful context, and worth reading through.  Though much of what's happened--ice melts, drought, storms, etc.--has been reported as events (here at Dreaming Up Daily for example,) sometimes as events related to the climate crisis (here again), Gore provides a context of meaning and response, notably on the impact of the two studies on polar ice melts.

Likewise various efforts on various levels to directly address the climate crisis that were at least referred to here are placed in greater context, with a sense of where things are going.  Gore counts himself among those who believe President Obama's recent policies and speeches, particularly the EPA regs on power plants (a power again affirmed by the Supreme Court today), have suddenly returned international leadership to the US on confronting the climate crisis, prompting his optimism on a 2015 global deal: " is abundantly evident that he has taken hold of the challenge with determination and seriousness of purpose."

Most interesting to me are the early sections of this piece about the startling advances in clean energy, both in terms of technology and economics.  The best news is on solar power. "The cost of electricity from photovoltaic, or PV, solar cells is now equal to or less than the cost of electricity from other sources powering electric grids in at least 79 countries. By 2020 – as the scale of deployments grows and the costs continue to decline – more than 80 percent of the world's people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources."

The positive trend includes developing countries which are doing what has long been hoped for--bypassing fossil fuel and going directly to clean energy as they develop.  And there's good news in general on "distributed generation" of power, primarily solar.  This section on energy is really worth checking out.

So it's clear that many areas--tech, a number of businesses (including insurance companies), the military, economists etc.--are out ahead of US national and some states' politics on the realities of the climate crisis, and they'll just have to catch up. Over the weekend yet another Republican, former treasury sec Henry Paulsen, called for a carbon tax to head off economic disaster caused by the climate crisis.  (Paul Krugman evaluates his ideas.)  Paulsen called for Republicans to confront the issue.

That's unlikely to happen soon in Washington.  As Gore notes, the Defense department warned that the climate crisis was not only likely to contribute to conflicts (as the drought in Syria is) but will likely be a major cause of conflicts.  The Navy was warned that due to sea level rise its Norfolk base--the biggest naval base in the world--will be underwater.  "And how did the Republican-dominated House of Representatives respond to these grim warnings? By passing legislation seeking to prohibit the Department of Defense from taking any action to prepare for the effects of climate disruption."

So the implacable no has not yet turned to yes.  But while there has to be a 'turning point' (as Gore titles his article) in some sense, the future may well be closer to Krugman's:" In policy terms, climate action — if it happens at all — will probably look like health reform. That is, it will be an awkward compromise dictated in part by the need to appease special interests, not the clean, simple solution you would have implemented if you could have started from scratch. It will be the subject of intense partisanship, relying overwhelmingly on support from just one party, and will be the subject of constant, hysterical attacks. And it will, if we’re lucky, nonetheless do the job. Did I mention that health reform is clearly working, despite its flaws?"

Still, the time is upon us because the climate crisis is here.  Gore constructs another interesting quote from a speech by Winston Churchill in 1936, talking about the gathering storm of World War II:  "Owing to past neglect, in the face of the plainest warnings, we have entered upon a period of danger. . . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays is coming to its close. In its place, we are entering a period of consequences. . . . We cannot avoid this period; we are in it now."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Climate Inside: Fear

      Image from Venture Galleries

It seems to go against common sense--not to mention the prevailing rational self-interest economic dogma--that very rich people can count on almost-poor people to support the interests of the rich against their own.  But it's an age old alliance, older than democracies, though it's a particularly bedeviling feature of electoral politics in America.

But there is a formula that explains it: greed manipulates fear.  The greedy rich use their vast influence to foment fear among the almost-poor, that the little they have is about to be taken away by...another race, immigrants, liberals, the government, an amazing conspiracy.

This is clearly at work in global warming denial.  The greedy fossil fuel magnates and those whose fortunes depend on them (including of course lots of political officeholders) prey on the fears of the mostly white among the almost- poor, which is most of the almost- poor.  There are several levels to these fears.  First, global heating as part of the liberal conspiracy explained to them on talk radio and Fox News.  But more directly, fear of the climate crisis itself. I mean, what if it's true?

 That fear is especially potent because, let's face it, it's much more realistic than the other stuff.  The climate crisis is scary, and most people who are honest with themselves are frightened by it.  We all wish it weren't true, there are times we all wish we could forget it, ignore it, even not live long enough to have to deal with it. (Too late now though.)

The role of greed is not a pretty sight to see.  We've just seen it big and bold in the statements of Republican Senators threatening to shut down the government this year to prevent the EPA rules limiting power plant carbon emissions from going forward.

The White House called them out on doing so to protect "big polluters," but the really humiliating, really telling event was a few days later when four former EPA chiefs for four Republican Presidents--Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes--went before a Senate subcommittee (in the words of one story) " with a message about climate change: It's real, it's bad and the United States should do something about it."

So no empathy whatever for greed or how craven it makes them look.  But fear is something else--fear is an understandable emotion.  The problem becomes how that emotion is handled, by individuals and by the polity.

It is really the basic test of individuals in our time, and of our civilization: not only do we have the intelligence to figure out ways to address the causes and effects of global heating, but what do we do with our fear.  Do we deny it by denying that global heating is real?  Do we take every possible opportunity to not think about it, think about something else, like the latest conservative/liberal outrage or celebrity misdeed?  Do we latch onto every doubt expressed, even if that doubt is manufactured by the corporations of the greedy, so we don't have to think about it?

Do we despair, because our politics, our country, our world can't possibly confront it, for any or all of a dozen or more reasons?  Or do we acknowledge it, deal with its emotional power, its power to overcome other emotions and rational thought?  Do we use it to motivate our search for solutions, our support for those who want to address it, our own commitments in our own lives?

As President Obama said at UC Irvine, these are particular questions for the young, with the energy, starting out on their paths.  But it is really a question for all of us.  Not guilt-tripping, but being real.  This is the latest test of our civilization and in many meaningful ways it is the most profound one.  It is also shaping up to possibly be the final one.